Monday, November 11, 2013

Interview Experience

Context:  one of my co-workers at work mentioned that his wife was interested in becoming a flight attendant and was going through the process of interviewing with various airline companies.  This reminded me of my first, real-job interview at Northwest Airlines a few weeks after graduating from college.  Below is an account of that interview. Enjoy.

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Even before graduating from college, I had made plans to attend graduate school and get a Master's Degree in Linguistics.  That all changed when my parents suggested that I go to an interview near Los Angeles for a flight attendant position for Northwest Airlines (bought out by Delta Airlines in 2008).  The goal wasn't for me to become a flight attendant but rather to get "interview" experience so that, if grad school didn't pan out, I could always start looking for a job with my newly honed "interview" skills.

"I had no interest at all.  And besides, I was there for the 'interview' experience"

Northwest Airlines at the time was hiring people interested in becoming flight attendants who also had Asian language skills.  You didn't have to be fluent in an Asian language;  you just had to have a basic understanding and the ability to get your point across.  They scheduled a group interview session in Long Beach, California, about an hour and a half north of San Diego and 30 minutes southeast of Los Angeles proper.  It was a warm day in June, just a couple of weeks after my graduation and the room we were to be interviewed was jam-packed with Asian faces.  The room had a number of chairs lined up with a side table set up for the interviewers and a podium on top of a small stage in the front of the room of the interviewee.  There were about thirty of us and each candidate went up to the podium and had to mention three things:
  1. Your name
  2. What second language you spoke
  3. Your best customer story
I was the last one to go up and so I had the luxury of listening to everyone else's interview. The first person, a young Asian woman about the same age as me, went up on the podium and looking straight down at her hands on the podium, started speaking in a hushed voice about providing the best service to a regular customer who would often leave them with a huge tip. The next person, a short Asian guy with glasses, blankly stared out straight into the distance, not making eye contact with anyone in the room, as if he was hyponotized by the wall that he was facing. He mentioned something about getting great service about some restaurant that he liked to frequent.  After a while, all of the stories started sounding the same and strangely enough, there were a lot of folks who brought up restaurants as being the place where they gave great service or went to get great service, as if restaurants were the hotspot for best customer stories.  The restaurant name or the name of the person who attended to their needs may have changed but it was pretty much the same super-generic best customer story.  What was interesting was that, since the podium was facing the center of the room where all of the interviewees were sitting, the candidate doing the talking was often facing their fellow interviewees and not the interviewers, who were off to the side.  It was, as if, the interviewees were pleading their case to their fellow candidates and not the interviewers.  And the interviewers?  Well, you could tell right away that they were bored out of their minds.  Blank stares with that glazed look on their faces as if they were in some kind of trance.  I would imagine that they have interviewed a countless number of people the days previous to my interview and were not looking forward to interviewing more hopefuls in the coming days.  Either that, they were drunk.

I had no intentions of becoming a flight attendant.  I had no interest at all.  And besides, I was there for the "interview" experience; learn as much as I can about what types of questions are asked, how people responded to those questions, how to present oneself to others while sounding confident and not cocky.  And so, having watched all of the other candidates repeating the same best customer story with hardly any variation, I decided that my story wasn't going to be about restaurants or favorite servers giving me extra napkins.  Behind the podium, facing the interviewers (who still looked hung over), I said to them and to everyone, with as much enthusiasm I could muster:

"Hi everyone.  My name is Scott Kuramura and the second language I speak is Japanese."

At this point, I say in Japanese that I've studied fours years of Japanese in college, one of those years being spent in Osaka as an exchange student.  I also mention, with as much modesty as possible, that my Japanese is pretty awful.  I then say, in English:

"My best customer story?  I unfortunately don't have a best customer story because it tells me that there is only one customer out there that I need to treat well or that there is only one hairstylist or waiter out there who gave me their best service.  I don't think we should think like that.  We should treat all of our customers the best that we can, putting ourselves into their shoes and providing consistently great service.  And we should be mindful of how that one hairstylist or waiter who gave me their best service treats others, asking ourselves, did they provide the same consistently great service to others as they did to me?  So, best customer story?  I don't have one.  Thank you."

And I sit down.  The interviewers, suddenly of their stupor and highly animated, start smiling and saying thanks as they wrapped up the interview.  They were definitely happy to be done with this torture session.  I quickly duck out of the interview room, head back home and report to my parents that I'm now "interview" savvy

The next day, I get a call from one of the recruiters who was at the group intereview.  Out of the thirty folks that they interviewed, only 5 were selected to go to the follow up interview and I was one of them.  My first thought was, "This is great.  More interviewing experience!".  But as I drove back to Long Beach the next day for the follow up interview, I realized that I was interested less in getting good at answering interview questions.  I realized that I was more interested in providing great customer service as a flight attendant.

[To be continued]

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